“Full But Empty” – The Innkeeper’s Story – 12-17-17

You should have seen how our little village exploded with people that time way back when. We had a huge crowd here in Bethlehem, the biggest we ever had. That time was a bright spot in the midst of the cruel oppression we had to live in every day. The Romans were cruel masters; we were always paying taxes. And, to top that off anyone who stepped out of line faced punishment, even crucifixion. Believe it or not, I’ve seen crosses line the road as far as you can see. And the Romans had a flunky, Herod, and he even made things worse.

All the people were in town because the Romans wanted more taxes and made everyone travel to their town that their family originated from to register. That way they had a more accurate count so they could get the taxes they thought were due, or more accurately, increase their revenue whether it was due or not. Let me tell you, business was great. That was because we were David’s town and because the old prophet said that from our town there would come again one who would rule Israel with the strength of the Lord and because of this, many claimed to be of the house of David, to have roots in Bethlehem.

You see people gladly took any and every way to trace their family back to the great King David. So that brought the huge crowd into Bethlehem for the tax census, and when people have to travel, my business booms. I’m the innkeeper of the only lodging in town. After all, people need a place to sleep and eat. I had people in every corner of the inn.

But all that glitters isn’t gold. All the people meant there were people to feed, beds to get ready, rooms to clean, and people kept on coming. I remember that I had just sat down to take a break, I was tired, but the inn was full, my cash bags were full, my mind was full of worries with things to do. I was worn out. Then there was a banging on the door. I dragged myself out front and there stood this poor couple, tired like me, and hungry. The woman was clearly pregnant and ready to deliver.

They had walked all the way from Nazareth and I had nothing for them, but I did the best I could. I know, I know, everybody always says that the innkeeper was so cruel for slamming the door initially, but I found them the last private, warm, quiet place left in Bethlehem. I led them to the stable behind the inn. I knew how that young man felt knowing his first baby was on the way because we had just had our first baby a few weeks before. I remembered the panic of doing all you can do to help my wife and yet feeling so helpless. I did the best I could do back then with that couple; I did all I could do. I had already given up my bed to a little old lady from Jericho.

But I tried to sleep, I couldn’t get any sleep. Why? Those crazy shepherds; why didn’t they stay in the hills like they were supposed to? I remember the next day, thinking that was the brightest moon I ever remembered. The night was so bright I couldn’t get any sleep. My life was so hectic, I needed sleep, but I couldn’t get any. This was my time to cash in and I wasn’t going to miss all the money to be made.

I remember thinking not much had happened in the night to cause so much noise in the street. Just a baby born to that couple from the night before, the ones in the stable. Had I only known how close I was, but I missed it. I do remember I should send some food down to them or, even better, stop by and congratulate them, and see about getting paid. You see I even wondered if I should charge them, for three.

But to be honest with you, I forgot that night. What happened a few months later completely wiped out the fond memories of all the money I made. That dog Herod, I curse his name, ordered soldiers to surround our village and they went house to house killing all the little children under two years old. My little boy, our first baby, was murdered. I was bitter and angry at God for allowing such a cruel thing to happen. Yes, I was successful, but I no longer cared. I had lost my baby. I was empty, no more tears, my heart was crushed. Why? Why? Why the evil? Why would anyone slaughter the innocent? Why?

Yes, we had other children and the business kept growing and I became more involved in the community and I never seemed to have enough time, you know I just got too busy. I read somewhere that busy is when you’re just doing something and too busy means that we have prioritized certain activities above other activities. You know what I mean, I got so busy in “other” stuff that I never took time for God.

Am I the only one like that? I guess you might say I had the same problem that night so many months before my son died. I was so busy going about my life that when important things come along, I had no room. My children wanted to play, but I was too busy. Too busy to even go for a walk with them or listen to them or talk to them. I missed things.

There were meetings about what to do with the Romans, how to improve downtown businesses, and of course there was always the business of running the inn. Always some problem, some pressure, some demand of my time. As for family, I thought there would always be another day. But the children grew up and were gone. My wife slowly turned away because I was always preoccupied with something beside her or the family. I missed my time during those times, and you know during that time there was no room in my heart for family, or worse yet for God.

Through the years I became bitter. Where was God when I needed Him. Sure, occasionally I went to the synagogue, but not often, and when I did I was thinking about other things besides God. Man, sometimes the service simply went too long, I had things I needed to get done. You see, I believed and yet I didn’t. I said I was a good Jewish man, but I wasn’t. The death of my son, the kids gone, my wife almost like a stranger, everything ate at me yet I still spent my time on things that really didn’t matter. Those things didn’t matter compared to the priceless time I could have spent with God and my family.

Well you might wonder when the change came. It began in Jerusalem when I finally after all those years made the trip that every good Jew wants to make. I had gone to the temple for the Passover. I know what you are probably thinking; here I am just a few miles from Jerusalem, maybe a half day walk, and I had never been to the temple for Passover. It’s funny how the temple was so close and available to me, I knew God was in that temple, but I was always to busy to go. I had other, better things to do rather than going.

I had seen thousands of lambs led through the streets over the years, headed to the temple for sacrifice, But I had never gone myself. My schedule was always too full, full of empty things, but full. But finally I could go because I had sold the inn and was retired. I stayed with a friend in Jerusalem who ran a good inn, of course he didn’t run it like I would have, but it was good anyway.

I had a hard time getting to the temple that day, some kind of trial was going on. People in the streets told me the Romans and temple authorities were after some rebel, a religious zealot. So I felt strangely pulled along with the crowd as they were going towards the hill where the Romans executed criminals. There I saw three crosses. As the men were lifted up, two seemed to fit the mold of petty thieves, that’s what I figured by listening to the crowd, but the middle one, the middle one…He was different.

I looked at the foot of the cross and was stunned to see her, that woman, that face, that night. She was the woman in the stable. I listened as the man spoke from that cross. He whispered, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I knew he was speaking to the soldiers, to the temple authorities and the crowd, but he was also talking about me, to me, the one who had no room in his inn for Him.

As the end of the day came, I knew where God was the night my little son died. He was in the same place He was when His own son died on that cross outside Jerusalem. He was with me and He cried too. God so loved the world that he gave His only son, that you and I and all of us might have life.

I might have missed my time before but I wasn’t going to miss it now. Through God’s great grace and mercy, I had another opportunity, more time. As I recalled the night the shepherds came running into town telling about angels, as I recalled that peace in the stable, as I reflected on the words of forgiveness I heard from that cross, I knew what the prophet of old meant when he promised:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, …. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. (micah 5:2-5)

At last I had that peace in my heart. At last I had time and room for Him. His grace and mercy now feed my soul. I knew from that moment at the cross that my heart, my life, would never be empty again. I didn’t have room for Him before, but He had room for me.

So don’t be like I was before. Don’t let the things of the world, the busyness of the world, the things that you think are more important than God take up all the room in your life and your heart. You can never get that time and effort back, but thank God, he is always there waiting for you and know that there is no better day than today to let forgiveness, peace and hope enter your heart and rule your life.

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